Tip 2: Don’t take up too much (metaphorical) space in the conversation.
Often without realizing it, white people can monopolize conversations about race. Usually it’s an attempt to appear not racist, defend ourselves, justify our actions, verbally process what we are being awakened to, or show off our knowledge. Engage in a greater level of self-awareness throughout such conversations so that you can intentionally de-center yourself, and focus on really hearing BIPOC who are speaking from a place of lived experience.
Have you ever had to tell someone something they said was hurtful, and in response, they went on and on about their background, intentions, bona fides, and guilt? Suddenly, a conversation that was supposed to be about the harm caused to you, is all about them. They’ve filled the conversation with their own words and thoughts, leaving no space for you to share.
This is an example of taking up all the metaphorical space in a conversation.
It can happen in lots of other ways too. A person of color may make a comment or statement you disagree with, and the whole conversation is now you arguing your side of things. There may be some healthy, multi-racial conversation or discussion occurring, and a white person begins talking over the BIPOC, ignoring their comments or questions and asking their own instead. Or maybe, you are in a meeting and trying to advocate for BIPOC, but in doing so are taking up all the time with your own voice rather than creating space for BIPOC in the room to hold the floor. These are just a few of the many ways this phenomenon plays out.
We know white people have important and meaningful things to say, but white people’s ideas and stories are prioritized nearly everywhere else, so it’s ok to take a step back and deprioritize yourself to intentionally shift the scales. Just because you’re asked not to be the quarterback doesn’t mean you’re being benched. You still have a position to play.
It can be easy to inadvertently take up a lot of space. Be cognizant of this when responding and engaging. Complete silence is not the answer, as that allows your thinking to go unchecked, but a happy medium truly does exist.
When the conversation turns to race, here are some ideas on how to engage without taking up all the air in the room:
- Share resources or insight by BIPOC you have found helpful.
- Affirm or thank the speaker without pointing back to yourself.
- Graciously accept feedback without feeling the need to be defensive or turn attention to yourself.
- Watch for other white people taking up too much space and help them see it in themselves.
- Allow BIPOC to take the lead and be willing to listen and learn, resisting the urge to always comment; growing in self-control and awareness.
Want to read more bridge building tips? Check out the first tip here.
Download a pdf of all 16 tips here.